Monday, 26 October 2009

On Poetry

When me and Chris left the movie theatre yesterday after having seen Bright Star, Jane Campion's latest film starring Ben Whishaw as John Keats and Abbie Cornish as his love interest Fanny Brawne, I was relieved to hear Chris say the words I was struggling to come out with myself: "I don't understand poetry". We went on to discuss our difficulties with poetry: we can both somehow hear the beauty behind the words, but we don't understand a) why it is beautiful, b) why it sounds as it does, and most importanty, c) what is being said.

The film Bright Star is superbly beautiful to look at - oh the costumes! the scenery! Not at all surprisingly, it features a lot of John Keats' poetry, recited out loud by both Whishaw and Cornish. As the words came out of their mouths, I sat there, not having a clue about what was actually said, despite understanding 95% of the actual words in question. Yet I could feel the sentiment behind each scene that relied on Keats' verse.

It hit me that for the most part I feel as if I understand Finnish poetry (in essence, I probably don't). I guess it would be easy to come to the conclusion that English not being my first language, it would be natural for me to have more difficulty with English poetry. However, my command of Hungarian is notably worse than my English, but I am much better equipped to deal with Hungarian poetry than its English counterpart. I can't think of any other explanation but lack of experience. I have never spent more than a frustration-filled half-an-hour trying to get inside an English language poem, but my professor of Hungarian language and literature would make me sit with a single stanza for hours on end at university. After all, poetry is a skill, sort of like magic tricks or sewing. Only if you understand the work behind getting to a certain point with your skills, you will truly appreciate and understand the end result.

I am going to figure out the ways of English poetry. I am not going to pretend that this will be an easy task. Reading a Wikipedia article about iambic pentameter alone was confusing, and made me realise how little I know of the actual art behind constructing poems.

One question: at what point did they stop teaching poetry at school? Or did they ever really teach it at all? If not, then where do poets come from? How on earth did I ever get through Endre Ady at university without taking a single course in the basics of poetry?

I don't consider myself ignorant by any standard, and am, in my own humble opinion, relatively well read. But it is almost embarrasing to recognise a gap of this magnitude in one's understanding of something so powerful, so beautiful and essentially so necessary for humanity as poetry.

Go see Bright Star, if for nothing else than the beauty of it. If you can recommend a good book about the history of poetry, please do!


Eyeliah said...

I am more of a movie renter, Ill be sure to rent it once it's out! :)

SnapandPrint said...

They cover poetry very quickly in high school and a bit more in college but, I have never seen an actual class on poetry offered. At leats not in the schools/colleges I attended.

I am a native English speaker and can understand poetry but somehow fail to really "get it" to the point where I like reading it and can say I really enjoy it.

I understand the feelings behind the poetry and the beauty of the words but still, it leaves me cold quite if the words are hiding the true meaning of what the author is trying to say. Maybe they really are in some cases.

I would love to enjoy poetry but, cannot seem to truly "get it".

I need to see Bright lasted 4 days in my small city's theater much to my disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Great post, sweetie! oxox, CR